The Spectator Bird (Paperback)
Reading this novel now at my age was perfect timing. I felt a strong kinship with the protagonist, a 70ish-year-old, retired literary agent, Joe Allston, who is preoccupied with his declining health, with the sense that he is “just killing time until time gets around to killing him,” with the feeling that increasingly he’s more like a spectator to life and less an active participant, with living too much in the past and second-guessing choices made long ago. And then how does one reconcile these nagging thoughts with that “feeling part of us that does not grow old at all?” Stegner is a master at chronicling the human struggle to cope with pain, grief, temptation, insecurities, and in particular, for capturing the subtle complexities of a long-term marriage--what goes unspoken between life-long partners. Joe and Ruth’s marriage is at the heart of this novel as together, they revisit events from decades earlier, leading to a tender, renewed appreciation and understanding of their shared life, and captured in this amazing passage: "it is something, it can be everything to have found a fellow bird…who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can’t handle."
I believe I will often reflect upon this novel, and revisit the many incredible passages like the one just quoted.— From Jeanne's Picks
Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "just killing time until time gets around to killing me." His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, has not been his choice. He has passed through life as a spectator, before retreating to the woods of California in the 1970s with only his wife, Ruth, by his side. When an unexpected postcard from a long-lost friend arrives, Allston returns to the journals of a trip he has taken years before, a journey to his mother's birthplace where he once sought a link with his past. Uncovering this history floods Allston with memories, both grotesque and poignant, and finally vindicates him of his past and lays bare that Joe Allston has never been quite spectator enough.
“A fabulously written account of regret, memory and the subtleties and challenges of a long successful marriage. Stegner deals with the dual threads of the novel with aplomb.... A thoughtful, crystalline book.” —Matthew Spencer, The Guardian
“There are rivers undammed, desert vistas unspoiled and forests uncut in the wondrous West because of his pen.” —Timothy Egan, The New York Times